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Illini Sports: A New Hope (or Two)

Momentous Week for Illini Fans!

The Fighting Illini Basketball Team is ranked in the top 10 and defeated Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Defeating a Top 10 Duke team on their homecourt is the biggest victory for the program in perhaps a decade. It could be longer. Honestly, I don’t remember but I can’t think of anything comparable in a long while.

Before last season’s 13-7 Big Ten record, the team last finished above five hundred in conference in 2009-2010.

The team is a fan’s dream. Lots of great elements. A bunch of slick, talented guards, a giant in the middle and maybe the most beloved player is a Georgian (not the one with Atlanta) transplant named Bezhanishvili. Even a curmudgeon of a coach. I’m especially looking forward to watching Andre Curbelo for the next 4 years. If not a future NBA player, he is a future Globetrotter.

They may not be a 2004-2005 Dee Brown and Deron Williams caliber team and they do not have the spectacular athleticism of the Flying Illini. But they look fun to watch and given the current state of college basketball they may be a legit National Title contender.

Of course, the Illini lost to Missouri in the annual Bragging Rights Game.

It doesn’t matter right now. The fan base has reason to care again. Of course, the fans can’t attend so its not clear what the long-term effect will be on student fans, but the future looks promising. And that is enough.

The signature win was not the only key fandom event of the week for the Illini.

On Sunday, the school dismissed the Lovie Smith, head coach of the football program. The Illini were 2 and 5 this year. The records for the previous few years were 6-7, 4-8, 2-10, 3-9. The Big Ten recruiting rankings for the past few years have been 13, 12, 10, and 13. This year’s class was ranked 14th in the Big Ten and 88th Nationally.

For whatever reason, the experiment of bringing a guy who coached the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl to Champaign failed.

I think, for a lot of fans the writing was on the wall for the Lovie Smith football program. For myself the key indicator was instate recruiting. This year’s top instate prospect is the 30th ranked player in the state of Illinois. The year before the top recruit was the 9th rated player. Two years before it was the 13th ranked player.

Illinois High School football does not produce any where the amount of talent as Texas, Florida, Georgia or Ohio. If the Illini are not at least competitive instate the program is probably doomed.

It is coming from a different direction for each program, but the Illini Nation has hope!


I’m under no illusions about the place of Illinois in college sports. I used to use an assignment (originated by Rich Lutz at the University of Florida) that asked students to come up with a replacement for Illinois’ mascot (symbol) Chief Illiniwek.

When I ran this assignment at Emory it was brutal. Mispronunciations - The University of Illinoize. The Fighting Eellini. The Illinois Lincolns. The Illinois White Tail Deer (the state animal).

For an Illini Fan this was brutal. The problem with having hope as an “aware” Illini fan is that I realize how difficult it is going to be to build and maintain the programs. This observation leads to another question. An important question, that I have thought about a lot during the last 5 years of occasional NIT bids and trips to the Red Box Bowl.

What makes for a successful college sports program? I'll get to this question in the coming days.

Listen to our new episode on Illinois fandom, coaching in college vs. the NFL, & "problematic" mascots on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.



Mike Lewis 0:17

Okay, welcome, everyone. Welcome to the Fanalytics podcast. My name is Mike Lewis. I am a re energized fan all of a sudden for the University of Illinois fighting online I and I am joined today by a guy who is always energized for the Georgia Bulldogs. How are you today Doug Battle?

Doug Battle 0:36

I'm doing well. Mike, the the big Florida loss this weekend was the highlight of the weekend for Georgia fans. So the the LSU shoe game as they say. So for those of you that missed that essentially for display off hopes came down to a player on their team throwing another player's cleat. 20 yards across the field for a penalty that cost them the game when it looked like they had it in their hands. So that was a fun one. for Georgia fans that are a little bitter about that rivalry right now.

Mike Lewis 1:09

You gotta love a little childishness in sports. It really, it's the like, it's like it's like, you know, in an income and we weren't on fandom. So it's like, the standard narrative. It's almost like a little bit of comic relief. Yeah. Right. So you had the you had the enemy lose and lose in an embarrassing fashion. Yeah, awesome.

Doug Battle 1:29

Yeah. It reminds me of last year's Ole Miss Mississippi State game where often miss player scored in the intern and then he fake. He pretended as if he were a dog that was going to the bathroom in Mississippi states and and then there was a penalty, and then they kicked it off. And Mississippi State I couldn't fill position ended up winning the game from the whole thing. So this was the closest thing to that the difference is that Florida actually was a playoff contender. That game was somewhat meaningless, other than the fact that it was just it was just for bragging rights.

Mike Lewis 2:01

So Can Can you imagine being a coach of one of these organizations? No. So you're, you're a guy that's making five $5 million a year, let's say running $100 million business? Yeah. And you got guys pretending their dogs in the endzone. Throwing shoes. No, I and and you can lose that gig because of this stuff.

Doug Battle 2:24

Yeah, I actually been helping coach eighth grade basketball and it's helped me to appreciate how frustrating it can be as like for these coaches because yeah, I'm I don't have a lot of pressure. I'm not getting paid millions of dollars. I wish I was that'd be nice. But uh, but getting these kids to be in control of their emotions, when maybe it gets chippy with another team, or when they hit a big shot and they're feeling themselves a little bit is a little bit can be frustrating. But with 18 to 21 year olds who are bigger, faster, stronger than you trying to tell them what to do and having your reputation on the line and your career on the line. The success of your career. I can't imagine being in that position. And my hat's off to the coaches that successfully have discipline team Florida does not.

Mike Lewis 3:14

Okay, well. So what I hear in that and you know, I want to do a shout out to one of my favorite Twitter handles. I don't know anything about the guy but john is gone three year Letterman. He's a Georgia guys, and he is a youth football coaching legend. So I'm glad to hear that you are on that path. I'm on the paddling, youth basketball coaching legend. That's what I'm going for. I need that clout on Twitter so that like the three year Letterman, I can correct others and, and let my thoughts be known on practically every subject as as superior to anyone on the subject of sports as a youth football or youth basketball legend. Yeah. And look, I mean, he is a great follow on Twitter, you know it because it's just relentless trolling on. I mean, one of his, you know, major themes for whatever reason is to throw out the Ben Franklin was one of the greatest presidents of the United States and that's reeling in the outrage responses. He's, he's sort of everything that is good and everything that's bad about Twitter all at the same time. Yeah, he's like the average person on Twitter. But he's trying to be funny, and he's not just bizarre and and well, so the college football season has basically wrapped up. So I'm going to admit I'm a little bit confused. I haven't totally looked into some of the details I was I was checking things online. Harbaugh says he is still committed to Michigan. You know, Harbaugh has figured out a way to potentially derail Ohio State by not playing love them, but but I don't know what like what is happening. I think Ohio State does not have enough games for the playoffs. Here's what's happening. Here's their the big 10 minute rule for the season.

Doug Battle 5:00

Essentially where Yeah, Ohio State would have had to play at least six games to be eligible for the conference championship. Well, how states the big Ten's only chance at a playoff spot. Ohio State ends up in a position where they only play five regular season games. The big 10 changes their rule after the season. So in other words, if it had been any other team, it would have applied but because it's Ohio State, and because they are a playoff contender, and they can make a lot of money for the big 10 the rule bent a little bit and now they just wiped it out altogether. Ohio State's in that conference championship looking like they've got a cakewalk to the college football playoff having played half as many games and suffered probably half as many injuries as their competition.

Mike Lewis 5:47

Okay, so we've got last minute rule changes. We've got folks throwing shoes.

We've got Vanderbilt running a, you know, almost like filming a plot for a Disney movie, right in terms of you know, breaking

Doug Battle 6:05

breaking glass ceiling and etc. Well be a movie for that, by the way as well.

Mike Lewis 6:10

At least a show right at 3034 30 kind of thing. Yeah. Um, we've also now entered the the part of the season where dismissals are occurring and believe the Auburn coach wins as long as gone. Georgia fans are upset about that

Doug Battle 6:26

one. I think most sec fans out that are not Auburn fans are a little upset.

Mike Lewis 6:31

Well, the thing that struck you know, really stuck out to me on that one was the number on the buyout. I believe that's an over $20 million.

Doug Battle 6:39

I think it was 26 million. I remember being at the lake in Alabama a few years back. And we saw this awesome house on the lake and I was asking Whose house is that? That's got to be a celebrity. And the person I was with said, Oh, that. Yeah, that's from Jean chisox buyout. That's gene Chizik house, because gene Chizik was the last national championship head coach at Auburn was fired, I think three years later, and had signed this huge contract after that championship, where he was going to be at Auburn for a long time. And he essentially got paid to go hang out at that lake house for a couple years. So now we're seeing the same exact thing with Gus their next head coach they signed him to and at the time, most opposing fans thought it was the most absurd contract and that I will come back to bite Auburn. And sure enough, it has. Another interesting thing about that storyline is that early Signing Day is this week. So the majority of next year's big prospects are signing, because a lot of them early enroll in college football. So they'll start school in the spring. Auburn is without a coaching staff giving them quite the competitive disadvantage.

Mike Lewis 7:47

Yeah, but it is interesting in terms of the the willingness to pull the plug on something like that to pay that price. Yeah. It's, you know, and I mean, you said who it's got to be some celebrity on that how, Lino in the house on the lake. Well in Alabama, isn't that sort of the definition of a celeb? Oh, yeah,

Doug Battle 8:06

no, those are the only celebrities now they are Nick Saban and Gus malzahn, who I guess has lost his status as celebrity but he could be a US Senator one day that tend to stick that's kind of the new path for former Auburn disgraced Auburn coaches.

Mike Lewis 8:23

Yeah. For those of you that don't know, Tommy Tuberville was recently elected to the US Senate. The South is a lot of fun. I'll give you that. It's

Doug Battle 8:34

Yeah, great. Yeah, this signs I would see some from Birmingham the signs I would see and this is not an endorsement anyway, this is an observation. The signs I would see in Birmingham during election season this year, where there would be T and T signs in front of houses it would say T and T, Tuberville and Trump. So that was kind of a package deal for the majority or I guess a portion of the GOP in the Alabama area. Voting for the former Auburn football coach as a senator and Yes, he is now now a US senator.

Mike Lewis 9:07

Nothing wrong with that.

Good, you know it, politics, GOP politics and college football. Now there was another coaching dismissal or at least a parting of ways, which is a little a little closer to home for me and that was the dismissal of Lovie Smith. Yeah, University of Illinois. Yes. And I I don't have it down, but I think you know, lovies record it, Elon, okay, so so the little bit of the backups background story on this is Illinois had a new new ad Josh Whitman came in and was sort of clearly on a mission to clean things up right. One of his first acts was to move away from an interim head coach and Bill cubit and hire Lovie Smith as a real high profile. addition to the alumni program. The

The contract I think was fairly large kind of an SEC level contract of $5 million for five years. So they paid Lovie Smith a lot of money. And lovie Smith's high point was a six and seven season that ended with a trip to the Redbox bowl, I believe, followed up by going to and five this year in the Lovie Smith experiment has now ended. Yeah, so my concern, if I were an Illinois fan would be what are you going to do? That's better than Lovie Smith? What are you gonna do that's better than the first are tied for the first African American head coach, to coach in the Super Bowl? A guy with an NFL pedigree that I'm sure helps on the recruiting trail, quite the football history. But well, but going back to what you were saying, I mean, this was part of the key, right, so this was a guy that took the Chicago Bears the city to the north of champagne, right to ours to the north, took the bears to the Super Bowl. So this is this is Illinois football, the state of Illinois football royalty in the hope was that, like a smart NFL guy going to come down here.

Like I said, big name in the state will potentially really clean up on the recruiting front. I can tell you that the recruiting has been

I mean, it's it's been something else. I'm going to put an article out there on the on the blog, where I'm going to detail some of the recruiting in the one loss record of the Lovie Smith tenure. But in general, as an alumni fan, when you were looking at the rankings of the recruiting class, you were seeing numbers like 12th 13th 14th 10th in the big 10. Yeah, it was absolutely brutal. And I'll tell you one of the things for me, that was an early warning sign that this was going to be a problem was in state recruiting. Okay, so So down here, you know, Georgia, the state of Georgia probably produces, I don't know, what do you think about 100 D one prospects a year, it's a lot.

Doug Battle 12:11

I mean, it feels like the entire sec, but plus some others.

Mike Lewis 12:16

But but in the state of Illinois probably only produces 25 to 35 D one prospects a year. And Illinois top recruit over the last few years has been like the 10th Grade A guy, the 15th rated guy. I think this year, they got their top rated in state recruiting is the 30th ranked player in the state of Illinois. So for whatever, for whatever reason, lavy had been completely unable to get into the Illinois high schools and to build the relationships. And to get that to get that local talent.

Doug Battle 12:48

Yeah, one thing that I have come to understand just from covering Georgia football a little bit is that the college coaching profession, is an entirely different job than coaching in the NFL. At least half of it the offseason. During the season. Yes, coaching on the field is very much the same. But these guys are on the road. 24 seven, I got a cousin. That's one of the assistants at Duke. And you know, he's told me about what it's like and what it's like, in the different conferences. And some of these NFL guys come in and maybe don't I know George's had coaches that have been fired, that had played in the NFL or had coached in the NFL, that were considered lazy in on the recruiting trail, because they didn't have that get up and go forward every day in the offseason work just as hard at acquiring players as you do at coaching those players. And so that's I would imagine there's probably a little bit of that because I'm pretty surprised that Lovie Smith didn't have more success in Illinois, given his history, given, you know, the proximity to Chicago, where he coached with the bears, I would think they would have torn it up in recruiting especially locally. There's got to be something that, you know, in that transition from the NFL to college, that doesn't translate and in My bet is that it is recruiting.

Mike Lewis 14:12

I think it's so I just looked it up while we were talking. And so the Illinois recruiting class for this year, in the in progress recruiting class is ranked 14 out of you know, again, it's always it's always amusing to say 14 out of 14 in the big 10. And the national rank is 88. Hmm. Now, you think how many I don't know offhand how many power five schools there are in the country, probably about 60. So he's being out recruited by third roughly 30 non power five schools after five years on the job?

Unknown Speaker 14:49


Mike Lewis 14:50

It's your right something didn't click, maybe he didn't want to recruit. Maybe he had moved in move past him somehow maybe you didn't have the kind of personality that really resonates with 17 year old kids. But something was clearly broken there.

Doug Battle 15:05

Yeah. And I think a lot of coaches like you look at Nick Saban struggling in the NFL, but absolutely dominating the last two decades of college football. I mean, I think if you put the same players on every team, in college, it's a different game. And I don't know that a guy like Nick Saban would would have dominated, you know, for 20 years. But so much of college sports and college football particularly, is just acquiring the greater talent. When you have more talent than the next team, you can run the same plays as them and beat them by 50 points. That's kind of what we've seen in Alabama. That's been the model at Georgia what they're trying to do a lot of sec teams I mean, LSU last year, same kind of thing with pretty much NFL players at every position. And and so someone like Lovie Smith, who may have had success in the NFL, whereas a guy like Nick Saban didn't it probably doesn't have the same recruiting skills, or at least the same recruiting want to the guy like Nick Saban has?

Mike Lewis 16:01

Well, you know, I mean, and we should be fair, Lovie Smith was fired by a couple of NFL teams as well.

Doug Battle 16:06

Yeah, it's not like he dominated. It's not like he dominated the NFL. I don't want to overstate his success there. But

Mike Lewis 16:11

I, I love what you said. And it's something I've always thought it's one of the craziest things about the call about the football coaching profession is a lot of times you'll see it a successful college coach get recruited up to the NFL. And it has always struck me as the craziest move to make at the college level. You get to have better players than your opponent. Right? Right. So you get to potentially make 7 million $5 million a year for ever while and let's just take Ohio State, Ohio State probably has a lot of years in the big 10 and conference where they have without question more talent than every opponent they play. Yes. Who would? Why would you ever move up to take that? take that job at the Cleveland Browns or the Jacksonville Jaguars? Yeah, and suddenly, you know, have less talent on your side of the field.

Doug Battle 17:03

Yeah, I remember, a few years back Gus malzahn at Auburn was reportedly fielding some offers from NFL teams, probably more of an agent move to get him that nice contract he got. But if you look at that, in retrospect, he did a poor job at Auburn in the sense that he was out recruited by all of his competition, they still had top 10 recruiting classes every year. But when you're in the same division as LSU, and Alabama, and you got to play Georgia every year, you've got to have a top five recruiting class almost every year in order to truly have, you know, a real shot at winning without needing luck. Auburn was not able to do that. It's very difficult to do. But now Gus malzahn is going to be paid $26 million. If he just doesn't work for the next couple years. I think there's certainly worse unemployment situations out there.

Mike Lewis 17:55

Well, now, the other side of this story is my reaction. As an alumni fan, you know, I don't want to wish ill on anyone. I'm not one of these guys of like, Oh, you know, we got to bench the starting quarterback, we got to put the backup in. We got to fire the coach, we got to fire the ad. We got to get rid of everyone. Right. Right. Not coming at it from there. But you know, when you look at and part of the reason why I keep on recruiting is that recruiting is an indicator of the future. And so when a coach is not recruiting Well, it is a hope killer. So if you're losing on the field or you know, or successful season is the Redbox ball. And then you have the 88th ranked class in the country that is absolute Death to the fan base. Yes. And the line I fan base has been beaten up for it seems like decades now with like, I mean, I can name the bright spots are playing LSU in the Sugar Bowl right around the millennium. And then Ron's oaks run to the Rose Bowl, and I want to say 2007 2008. Those are the high points over the last perhaps 30 years or 25 years. It's not enough, right. And so it is, it's like being an Illinois football fan is a continual kind of kick in the stomach, which is probably why Whitman went out and got a big celebrity name like like Lovie Smith just didn't work. So then the question becomes, well, what do you do next? You know, you've gotta and look, Illinois doesn't have the resources for these kind of buyouts. What do you align up next to both create a successful program? And Doug, you made the point earlier, you got to have to judge Lovie Smith, not in relationship to Nick Saban. You have to judge him in relationship to what can be accomplished in Illinois.

Unknown Speaker 19:47


Mike Lewis 19:48

And so the question is, well, where do you go next, and it's it but I will say this, at least for the fans, the coaching searches are always a little bit fun, right? They're kind of like a draft day where There's, again, kind of some some hope out there. Maybe Illinois goes out and gets gets Gus. Right. Yeah. Where they go for the the young up and coming coach.

Doug Battle 20:08

Yeah. One thing about college football, that I think fans need to understand, I think leagues need to understand this is that, and I think they do. But you know, in the NFL, if your team has the worst season ever. Well, good news, you get the number one pick, right? You get Trevor Lawrence jets, congratulations. And there's hope. I mean, there's jets fans that will be pumped for next season, that are pumped right now for this offseason, because of the prospects of Trevor Lawrence or Justin fields. In college football, if you win the national championship,

Mike Lewis 20:43

yeah, go check something just in the middle of that. Who has more hope for the future. Now the Jets are the giants,

Unknown Speaker 20:51

probably the Jets.

Mike Lewis 20:53

And the Giants might be winning that division,

Doug Battle 20:54

right? With the Jets. So in college football On the flip side, if you do worst in the league, guess what you get the last draft pick the equivalent, if you know Alabama's gonna get the first year it's like if the Patriots got the number one draft pick every year. And they were able to get you know, over these last several years, all the top players. There's no parity in college football for that reason. That's why we see these top. That's why we've seen Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, in the same couple teams in the playoff every single year, is that you essentially get the top pick when you have the top team the season before. So for a program like Illinois, it's very difficult to generate hope because you don't have that bailout that the Jets get of well, you had a bad season, but you're gonna get a handout from the NFL. There's no handout for for Illinois, they gotta they got to start from scratch. They either got to hire some, some guy that's a big risk or pay a lot of money to get a guy that's been successful elsewhere, which is really difficult to do at a football program that's not that has not had recent success. So it's a totally different ballgame in college sports. And I think being a fan of the alumni is probably a lot harder than being a fan of the Detroit Lions, not because the Detroit Lions have fared better in the last 20 years. But because there's always that big top pick coming up where they feel like man, maybe Matthew Stafford is going to lead us or maybe Calvin Johnson is going to take us into the next level. There's none of that in college football or in college basketball for that matter.

Mike Lewis 22:29

Well said. Now on the other side of the sports aisle. There's also a bit of a reawakening for Illinois basketball. So look, I think as an Illinois sports fan, I got some negative activity that's producing hope on the football side. On the basketball side, Illinois, went to Cameron Indoor Stadium, indoor arena, the home of the Duke Blue Devils. They came in and look Illinois basketball has been a rough haul for really about the last decade. Last year, they probably would have made the tournament if it wasn't for the COVID shutdown. That's right, they came into the season ranked top ranked as a top 10 team. And they thoroughly they thoroughly beat Duke and I think it's going to turn out that this Duke team is actually pretty bad. But they beat a top 10 Duke team on their on their home floor. And I'll tell you this as a fan. They did it in a way. That was really kind of great. I absolutely love this Illinois team. Already right out of the gate. They've got a bunch of fun ingredients to it. They've got they got a player of the year candidate and they Oh, dosa mom. mispronouncing that a little bit. They've got a you know, sharp shooting freshmen, one of the you know, sort of borderline five star recruit and Anna Miller. I love this kid. They got curbelo, who looks like i think i right wrote in the blog post that if he doesn't have a career in the NBA, he's probably got one with the Harlem Globetrotters. He's gonna be a lot of fun to watch for four years. And they've got a literal giant in the middle that doesn't get any calls because he's sort of like Shaq so much bigger than everyone right? And then on top of it, you got a coach that could be in the you know, sort of the Bill Belichick curmudgeon training program. And so it got a lot of fun aspects and suddenly it it's a fascinating thing for me because it's how easy is it for this passion as a fan to be reignited?

Doug Battle 24:40

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I totally get that with. I feel like it's the opposite. For me. Getting excited about Georgia basketballs is hard and even last year was a year where I was very excited and they were not on pace to make the tournament with a prospect like Anthony Edwards. So it's kind of like losing Lovie Smith. If you lose, we couldn't do it with him. What's he going to take for us to root to build a rebuild to the point of really being a basketball school just kind of like Illinois trying to be a football school. But on the flip side, obviously, there's a lot to enjoy for Illinois basketball fans in Georgia football fans. Man, I got to say, I hate that. You guys be Duke during a limited capacity slash no capacity, time, because storming the court against Duke is one of the most fun experiences of my life. I did it as a Virginia student. And I did not attend the University of Virginia.

Mike Lewis 25:37

It's also a lot of fun to make the Duke fans cry. Yeah, right. Nothing better than watching a than watching your team be Duke and watching those. Those poor little dukey students kind of huddle is sort of borderline tears, is their mighty Blue Devils are defeated on their home court. I mean, that's kind of the it lets you know that as a fan, you can have to be a little bit of a bad person, right? reveling in the misery and look, no other fan base, what do I want to see cry more than Duke basketball. I

Doug Battle 26:10

mean, it's the same as Georgia fans, this weekend with Florida and the LSU game.

There's something about fandom where it's natural for fans of one entity to take pleasure, and not just the enemy team losing, but in the pain, the way that they lose the manner of their losing. So you've obviously described that as an Illinois fan with your loading of Duke. I've described it as a Georgia fan my loathing of Florida. It's a beautiful thing. It's it's probably to someone from a different culture listening to us would probably think we're very messed up but it's, it's, maybe we are maybe our whole culture is but it is part of fandom nonetheless. Well, I don't you know, I don't know when I teach this stuff I spend a day on like I, you know, I spent all this time talking about love that fans have for their team, but then we often go well, what's the other side of love? You got it? You got to have hate. And you know, as an ally Nye is a line guy. Look, I I really dislike Indiana, I dislike Indiana basketball, Iowa basketball for some historical reasons. I actually think sort of the hatred of Duke is almost universal for college basketball fans, even more so than some of the other Blue Blue Bloods like Kansas or Kentucky, Duke, there's something about that Duke program that.

Mike Lewis 27:40

Like me, you know, it's like maybe if you're a Louisville guy, your ideal victory is beating Kentucky on their home floor. But Duke is almost a universal bad guy. Sort of the bully of college basketball. Yeah, tying this to a couple I always end up tying everything in sports to movies and movies to sports, somehow, but tying this this conversation to film for a moment. The bad guy I've noticed just over the years, the caliber of bad guy thing directly correlates to how engaging a film is and how well received it is, particularly for superhero movies like The Dark Knight. Everyone thought it was legit. And like, wow, this feels real. And this feels scary. And I feel somewhat frightened watching it was because of Heath Ledger's Joker. Yeah, that's really the only difference between that movie and any of the other Batman movies, any of the Spider Man movies or I mean, of course, that's oversimplifying. There's a lot going on there. But the caliber the bad guy, the Star Wars movies having so much success with Darth Vader early on. And then in the more recent movies, kind of struggling to find a real bad guy that was menacing and scary that didn't feel like a copycat and people questioned. the authenticity of these movies, is a villain is so necessary for creating a hero in film and in storytelling, and storytelling in sports. And so Duke is essential for for UNC fans, and even losing to Duke i think is essential because beating a team like Duke really doesn't mean anything. If they lose all their games, right? It they've got to beat you most of the time. And they've got to kind of have your number in order for it to really feel for you to really have that hate and really feel like you're accomplishing something. So I think it's a storytelling

Doug Battle 29:29

mechanism and in sports fandom and in sports, branding and marketing. But I think it's absolutely necessary to have a good villain.

Mike Lewis 29:37

Well, you know, it's funny that you mentioned cinema, because when I think I do, and I'm gonna go a totally different direction than you are, then you went. I tend to think of these john Hughes movies from the 80s where the thing about Duke that makes him such a great villain in this context, is they actually seem to be the you know, the kids at the Country Club, right? Where everyone else is kind of the, you know, whatever the kind of the, the misfit high school student in beating Duke is beating, you know, Cobra Kai, or, you know, the blonde kid with all the money or it's like,

Doug Battle 30:16

it's like when the nerd gets the girl kind of I mean, it's kind of the Peter Parker storyline that's been do. That's, that's one of the two, especially when it's a mid major and the you know, and it's Lehigh and NCAA Tournament or, or Mercer, which both happens somehow.

Mike Lewis 30:31

Okay, so that is, you know, to me, sort of just put it out there, that is kind of a personal reflection on the reignition of fandom, let's say and how, how easy it actually is a little bit of hope, tempered by reality in the case of the football program, and in the case of the basketball, hey, you throw a fun team out there, you get a decent win. And I'm 100% back end even after a decade of futility. And I will point out that the team is actually only foreign to losing to Baylor, Missouri, but it's just you know, you just need enough you got to have you got to have these these against the kind of an overworked, overused word the last couple of weeks, but hope for the future is kind of the key driver.

Doug Battle 31:17

Yeah, I think I think you're dead on there. And one other thing that we obviously just talked about is hatred. I feel like that is something that will always get fans get their fandom reignited. I think Georgia could have a terrible season, we could be winless and I will still get fired up for the Auburn game or the Florida game. Not because I'm excited about the Georgia team. But I'm excited about the prospects of potentially ruining Florida or Auburn season.

Mike Lewis 31:47

Okay, so Mr. battle, what if anything else in the world of sports or entertainment is on your, on your mind as we wrap up this week's episode?

Doug Battle 31:57

Well, my one thing I think, early on in my tenure here with analytics, we discussed the Washington our words, changing their name, and what they might change it to and what that might mean. And we discussed other teams that might have to change their names in the coming months coming years. One of those teams was the Cleveland now the Cleveland I words the Cleveland Indians. They are no longer the Cleveland Indians. I'm not sure what they're gonna be. But we're back in a situation where 2020 political correctness and sports political correctness really affects everything in our, our culture.

This will be the second major sports brand, totally rebranding, or at least somewhat rebranding from the whole phenomena. And we've got a handful of other teams that look like it'll force their hand looking right down the road at the Atlanta Braves, for example. So I think that's definitely worth discussing for a moment.

Mike Lewis 33:02

And yeah, diving into you know, it's always been interesting me over. And I think I probably told this story a number of years, I first got into the issue of mascots. Based on an interest and again, sort of very aligned I focused show but when the when Illinois moved away from chief ally, NY WIC as their symbol there. They never called him a mascot. I forget what the word they use was, but they're sort of halftime entertainment. That the question is what what happens in Illinois was a lot like most the way most of these controversies work, where there's, there's a push to eliminate the offensive mascot, and it goes on for years and years. And then finally a change is made. It's happened a lot at the college level. I think it used to actually be the Stanford Indians way back.

Doug Battle 33:53

My personal favorite is the Ole Miss Rebels where they changed their name, technically, but they still paint rebels across their endzone for every game, but it's not their name. It's not their brand, but it's just so...

Mike Lewis 34:07

so there's a lot of the I mean, the Native American ones have been sort of the the fire storm for years. And that's where you've seen a lot of movement, Syracuse, Marquette, Illinois. And so it started with me doing some work, just actually looking at what happens. And I can tell you at the college level, you don't see a lot of loss of fans. So the alumni tend to come back as soon as the team starts to win again.At the pro level, obviously, the big one has always been the Washington Redskins. And I think it's kind of interesting the way you said that the Washington are words because that is definitely part of this. What's unique about this, this story is just over the last few years, it's gotten to the point where even saying the name of the old team can potentially get you into trouble. I think it was NPR that edited some audio tape of

and took out all of those. Yeah,

Doug Battle 35:02

all of those references. And to add some context to that Mike was discussing team names and changing team names. And he was censored from saying the actual name of the team he was discussing.

Mike Lewis 35:15

So So I think it's actually reached the point where when I'm writing about this stuff, I'm just going to say, you know, again, it's kind of this this Harry Potter universe that we live in with these millennials that grew up with can't say Voldemort. And so look, I will I will now say it's the Washington football team and the Cleveland baseball team. I kind of like the idea of moving towards these kind of Euro soccer models of call it colic, Cleveland. Cleveland, bt, right, or Cleveland bc for baseball team or baseball club. But it is kind of an interesting one in terms of what what happens next. What is the next Domino to fall in the sim. So what do you think? I think you've referenced the reference the Braves and what was the other one you threw out there? Yeah, I

Doug Battle 36:05

mentioned the Atlanta p words. Let's Let's see who else choose to be Hi, sir. Hockey, the Chicago block. Oh, yeah. Hockey. Yeah. Chicago. Yeah, so those two but I mean, nowadays, it's hard to find a team that someone doesn't have a criticism of that could potentially ruin their branding. I know that we had discussed a while back, somebody out there wanting the Georgia Bulldogs to change their name, or change their mascot and not have a live animal mascot. There's a lot of anti live animal people out there. So I think that one could get tricky with so many teams having live animal mascots. Um,

Mike Lewis 36:49

well, the one they hate the most. Well, yeah, you know what, in fact, I sort of take that back. I've been around this long enough that in fact, I'm gonna say the two live animal mascots that they hate the most. Are Mike the tiger at LSU. And oddly, I do you think Agha from the Georgia Bulldogs has rocketed up that list over the last couple of years. In the case of Mike the tiger, there's something about having a predator living in an enclosed space. Even though I you know, my understanding is that Mike the tiger has a beautiful home. I've seen Mike the Tigers home. It's like a little mini Africa. Yeah. And then in the case of the Georgia Bulldogs, its concerns about how attractive the Bulldog is is causing people to push the breeders into creating a hideout. I don't know if this is an actual real world, ever less healthy, healthful, well ever less healthy versions of the Bulldog. It's kind of an interesting one too, because I've been on record saying that I think Agha in Reveley might be the two best mascots, in college football Reveley for Texas a&m. So it's interesting that even those kind of family Pat with a family is the thing, the amble dog nation. Those are really under fire.

Doug Battle 38:12

Yeah. So I mean, it'll be interesting to see. But if we're gonna really try to think like a snowflake here, I could see the New England Patriots, I could see that one coming under fire for being like, labeled an ideology or radical political term or something along those lines. I again, I'm not making that claim. I'm just saying I could see somebody doing

Mike Lewis 38:37

Yeah, but I've actually seen it made. Yeah, so I've been running an assignment in class where I asked students to identify a problem like that out there. Yeah. And the problem with the found with the Patriots is that these are the founding fathers were a bunch of white men there many of whom own slavery, right and so it quickly it quickly becomes something that is almost indefensible, depending on how the and how the name is framed. Let

Doug Battle 39:09

me let me take it a step further. If we're gonna say, we're gonna go the slave owner. Route. is the term Washington football team. A problematic offensive George Washington. It is Yeah, cuz I mean,

Mike Lewis 39:24

I mean, not. Now, you know, and we always got to be, always want to sort of clarify individual opinions versus kind of versus just kind of an analytical perspective on this stuff. Yeah. That case is also made like I, I can tell you, one that kind of threw me in this was last year's class, where one of the one of the student teams identified the raging Cajuns as an offensive name. It kind of brings you up short for a second because I you know, raging, Cajuns actually sounds like kind of a fun name that everyone could get. behind. But it this point, it's almost like if a team name relates to a monolithic or a single ethnicity, it is going to come under attack for being exclusionary and so it's a very with the current culture it's a very narrow path to not be offensive historical figures are different are difficult live animals. Ethnic groups or you know Fighting Irish will probably be attacked in the coming years. Yeah,

Doug Battle 40:33

I think our safest teams because nobody's safe and 2020 and soon to be 2021 nobody's safe from from all this but I think our safest team, the you, I think you NBC. They'd be Virginia in the first round a couple years back there. The Golden Retrievers are hard to imagine that one I think the Oregon Ducks have got to be one of the bigger brands that's truly safe. Although that could change tomorrow, it we're just not as well educated on the oppression, the oppression of dogs. Florida State Seminoles, that's one that's there. They're going to be on the hot seat pretty soon. I could see

Mike Lewis 41:11

well, then the Seminoles are interesting, right? Because they've got a contractual there. They've got a relationship. And maybe it's contractual. Maybe they're sharing some revenues with the the Seminole tribe.

Doug Battle 41:21

So at this point, they they're relatively clean and all they're being proactive about this. They knew this was coming.

Mike Lewis 41:28

But to me if I'm if I'm Nate, I'm not I'm not joking around on this if I'm naming the team, if I'm renaming the the Washington football team, that's exactly where I'm going to leave the name the Washington football team. I'm gonna wash my I'm gonna wash my hands of it. I think Europe has proven that you can, you can get away with just the name of the city, putting a word like united or football club after it. In the current culture. I think that is probably the safest and best way forward.

Doug Battle 42:00

What Mike as a as a math guy, expert, I'm

Mike Lewis 42:05

sorry, I gotta laugh at that. Well, yeah, who? Who knows how your life is gonna go?

Doug Battle 42:10

As a mascot expert,

Mike Lewis 42:12

as a mascot expert, speaking to a future youth basketball legend, Ching. legis.

Doug Battle 42:18

Yes. From from mascot legend to youth coaching legend. Could you tell me please? how you view or I guess the value that's lost in a team like the Washington our words transitioning from having a mascot to not having a mascot, right? Because there's got to be a value that's added by having this symbol for a team. And that's why we have mascots. I would imagine I'm sure there was, you know, it's kind of a supply and demand thing where they realized, Oh, this, this is a good thing that helps us build a brand. This helps us create fans. What happens when you take that away? For example, this would be an extreme example. But if all these teams were just going by the Brooklyn basketball team and the Cleveland baseball team,

Mike Lewis 43:08

okay, so let's sort of, let's kind of go through this. On a personal on a personal level. Okay, so let's talk about Agha Now, does Aga feel like what does it feel like to you? Does it feel like a dog that almost a little bit like your dog?

Doug Battle 43:27

Yeah, I've met a girl before I've actually met a different algo than the one we presently have. It's like meeting Santa Claus. Right? There's, yeah, there's one at every mall in the entire world right now. But once you meet them, you know Santa Claus. Like he's your friend. And he's your guy. And he's gonna give you a gift. Like Olga, is my dog like, yeah, I that's my dog. I'll give him pet every time I see him. He's a good boy. And I love see him out there on the field.

Mike Lewis 43:55

Okay, so Aga is almost the equivalent of family Pat in I think to a lot of us, that means og is kind of part of your family. And so as part of your family, and so are those other 90,000 plus people in the stands, right. So what's great about a mascot if they're done, right? Is it something that is this point of connection? Now, could you do? Also, let me ask you this? Do you own any clothing with a bulldog on it?

Doug Battle 44:24

Yes, quite a bit, probably half of my wardrobe.

Mike Lewis 44:27

Okay. So he's also a symbol that can go on a T shirt or a sweatshirt where you guys can use to identify each other and say, Hey, and let me ask you this. If you were walking across the parking lot, and you're wearing some Georgia colors, do people ever shout out? Do they ever bark at you or shout out go dog?

Doug Battle 44:51

Yes. Especially when I'm traveling like I was in Colorado a few years back, and I were a lot of joy. Just off and on when I was a student at the time and almost everyone, everywhere I went, somebody would say, hey, go dogs go dogs, you know. And then you start talking to him, you have a conversation you find out, oh, they were in the same class at George's. My mom was and they were there and Herschel Walker was there while I was there, the next time we made the national championship, and you have all these conversations that way.

Mike Lewis 45:20

Okay, and so that's kind of I think that's the key ask, what's the value to these mascots, to these symbols, and it's this is this point of, it's this focal point for a community, it's something that you guys can all gather around and share. And so there's definitely some value to that. Now, here's the the complicating factor and if though, if Georgia decided to not have a mascot to not have a grinder, would there still be an add on? What's the capacity of the stadium?

Doug Battle 45:53


Mike Lewis 45:55

Okay, would there still be 96,000 people in the seats in a post COVID world without algo? Yes, absolutely. Right. And so I think for some of these brands, they've reached the point of maturity. And Aga is something it's like a nice to have, yeah, it's, it's something that the community can bond around. But it's also a brand that is so developed, and the loyalty is so intense, that you guys can kind of do without it. Now, if I switch gears, and let's talk about the University of Illinois,

you know, the the loss or sort of discontinuing some of the traditions probably gets a little bit more, a little bit more dangerous. So, you know, it's a little bit of a mixed bag, I mean, these things potentially have value. But in the world of sports,

anything that happens with a sort of anything marketing related anything, you know, the cool uniforms, cool mascot, this stuff is all just blown away by having a team that wins 90% of their games, goes to Final Fours goes to major bowl games, to that to that kind of thing, right. And so in the case of teams, professional teams, very much a very much a nice to have, the Redskins might take a little bit of a heat from some of their fan base. Hey, they may have acquired more fans, new fans this year by moving away from the name.

But if that team goes to a Super Bowl or goes to a couple of Super Bowls, then in some ways, Washington football team is just going to be fine.

Doug Battle 47:29

Yeah, I think the problem with it for the Washington football team is they did have years of lots of Super Bowls that were tied to that our word brand. And now that they've disassociated from that, and they're not good, it's like those old fans, my father's one have a hard time feeling like this is their team where you take away that winning history or the the feeling of it, the branding, that's the only thing associated, the only thing connecting those teams to these teams were the uniforms and the team name. And the htt are that that's I think that's probably in my eyes, the most valuable thing that would be lost for Georgia, for example, if they were to take away Olga, for example, and if it were looked down upon to say, dog and go dogs, and that's my dog and all this dog todai stuff is like the things that are shared on social media the things that are said between people go dogs is a big one. I know from all my friends in DC that are Redskins that are our word fans. That are Washington football fans. They they used to just post every Sunday htt er, I would have 20 posts because I have a bunch of family up there htt are every time they score a touchdown htt er, and now I don't see any of that. So it's like free advertising for the Washington football team. That's no longer there. And I don't think they know how to like what just go football team. Like what do they say doesn't catch it doesn't feel right. And it doesn't have that exponential free advertising effect that on social media. That's something like hashtag go dogs are hashtag htt R has. So I that's another point. I mean, there's a lot of things. This is kind of like trying to put a number on on marketing stuff for a profitable brand. Like would Honda still be really valuable without commercials. Yeah. Or without their logo. Yeah, but there certainly is value there. And I think it's the case with this and it's just you can spend a lot of time going around finding parts of it that are valuable and more value may be lost for teams like the Star Wars or the Cleveland I words.

Mike Lewis 49:42

Well, and let me throw one last comment on that. Because I think it is an important part of this story and sort of your reference to I think you say your grandfather's is an interesting one in that, you know, moving away from the historical brand, changing the names probably does have more of an impact on sort of segments of fans, right? So if you went to the University of Illinois, and you were into sports and you saw chief align quick dance at all the football games, maybe that's an important part of your, of your Illinois story, right? If you were a Washington football fan and you owned, you know, our word jerseys for for years and years, and they take that away, okay, in some ways, it's kind of reasonable for the fan to go, you know, I don't know what this is. Now, this is not what I was. This was not what I was rooting for. I mean, that fandom is, you know, especially at the professional level, when we don't have a pure affiliation to the, to the university is a little bit of an artificial beast, right? It's like, why am I rooting for the Chicago football team? Well, I guess I'm a Bears fan, because I happen to live in Chicago, right? It's almost like my job transfers me to Chicago. Now I have to run out of the bears and the cops. Yeah. So there's something arbitrary about it. And so if you disrupt what is kind of an arbitrary relationship, and especially, let's say, for older consumers that aren't, let's say going to the games anymore, they're not watching this stuff in, in sports bars. You know, they're watching it in their house, there's there's more of a tendency for disruption than for younger consumers. Okay, so Doug, to wrap this one up. We've got something, something non sports related on the agenda. We are going to do a special episode on Star Wars fandom.

Doug Battle 51:34


This is something I've been pushing for since I was hired. And I've gotten Mike to watch two whole seasons of the Mandalorian. He's all caught up now. He's right there with me. So we got the finale this week. We've had I think 12 or 13 new projects introduced last week by Disney that are going to roll out over the next three years. Star Wars project Star Wars fans are pumped up right now. It's Christmas. You got Star Wars Legos. I'm giving a little buddy of mine. A Star Wars Nerf gun. I mean, it's it's Star Wars season every Christmas for me, it feels like so yeah, what better time to discuss this incredible fandom that started from a movie that the creator of the movie did not think would be successful at all, and has turned into somewhat of a religion across the world. So that's on its way and so for for this week. What I'm going to say is, well, I'll let you let you do your shout out first, who you're rooting for this week. rooting for Boba Fett. I'm rooting for Amanda. I'm rooting for baby Yoda and I'm rooting for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Mike Lewis 52:43

Okay, I'm gonna second that this is the first time we've been in agreement. I'm rooting for Boba Fett. So if you are not if you had sort of tapped out of the Star Wars universe based on the the second three movies probably a lot of folks in my generation tapped out with was that Jar Jar Binks kind of? Then the Mandalorian in the return of Boba Fett, Boba Fett is something. It's something great. And I'm back in and go Boba Fett.


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